Friday, January 29, 2016

Quickies: For My Christian Readers

     At Dystopic’s excellent site, in a discussion of the famous episode wherein Jesus drove the “moneychangers and sellers of doves” from the Temple vestibule, I commented to this effect:

     You’ve cited one of the most misunderstood of all the episodes in the Gospels. Here are the elements the story doesn’t tell explicitly, because they were common knowledge when it was written:
  1. No one was permitted into the Temple without two things:
    • a fee paid in special, Temple coinage;
    • a sacrificial animal.
  2. The Temple was the seat of Jewish religious power and status:
    • power because to the extent that the Jews of Judea were permitted “home rule,” the authority was vested in the Sanhedrin, Judea’s high religious council;
    • status because being known as a faithful attendant at the Temple was the key to social status in Jerusalem, which correlated with the favor of the Sanhedrin and access to the tetrarch.

     Thus, the “moneychangers and sellers of doves” in the vestibule assisted the Sanhedrin in mulcting Jewish worshippers, who had no effective comeback at them or their enablers. When the Sanhedrin’s “secret police” learned of a wealthy or well-to-do Jew who refrained from Temple worship, they’d put the screws to him by threatening him with a charge of heresy or blasphemy. Alternately, they’d threaten to denounce him to his neighbors as irreligious, which could get him ostracized at best, killed at worst.

     Classical Judea, especially under Roman occupation, was not a very nice place.

     But it appears that though I was informed about most of the details of this extortionate practice, there was one I’d never heard about, mentioned by commenter Friar Bob:

     You missed a rather important detail, Fran. Many people brought their own animals and were TURNED AWAY unless they “upgraded” to a “higher quality” animal sold by the local scalper.

     It was — as with many things the Pharisees and Sadducees did — a gross misuse of scripture, in this case Malachi’s condemnation for bringing the sick and the lame. Malachi’s condemnation was still valid, of course, but they took it way too far and used it as an opportunity to fleece the worshipers.

     And while yes people were ostracized for heresy (and/or “heresy”) that’s going to happen in ANY theocracy. Of and by itself, that’s not even a bad idea. Unfortunately when corrupt humans are running said theocracy, that turns what could be a theoretically good idea into a hideous nightmare.

     Truly, Judea in the time of the Redeemer must have been nightmarish. And there’s no hour of the morning too early to learn more about one’s faith. And of course, one should always remember the other lesson from this famous event:

     Words to live by!

1 comment:

Avraham said...

It could be that author has information besides what I have read. And how the actual Temple was run during the Second Temple period was mainly in the hands of the Sadducees which were not running it according to the Law. The Sanhedrin also was mainly packed with the Sadducees. But according to law one does not pay to get into the Temple. Nor does one change a bad animal to a better one. If a animal has a blemish that makes it unfit for a sacrifice then OK but that is not the same thing. If it is fit for the altar then it must be sacrificed and one is not allowed to exchange it. I can see that the Sadducess were very corrupt and as you say when they were in control things must have been miserable.